2017 Toyota 70 Series GXL Wagon review

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It's been around for decades, but now, with subtle improvements, the 70 Series continues to forge ahead in the tough-as-nails off-road class.

Two-thousand kays behind the wheel tells you a lot about a vehicle, and I learnt plenty about the 2017 Toyota 70 Series GXL Wagon over the recent festive break when I spent just under 2100km – quite literally – trucking around.

We’ve tested the Wagon in GXL specification for this review, but also keep in mind the 70 Series range comprises the troop carrier and both single and dual-cab trayback options.

‘Fit for purpose’ is a favourite term of mine when it comes to vehicle assessment. You can forgive all kinds of other evils and misgivings if a vehicle nails the fit for purpose brief. Fellow road tester Matt Campbell and I discussed the theory of fit for purpose at length recently and came to the conclusion the 70 Series might in fact be the most gold-plated, diamond-encrusted example of the theory currently on the market. In fact, if we had a singular fit for purpose rating, the 70 Series would score an 11 out of ten.

With the Land Rover Defender well behind the curtain of retirement, the 70 Series shares the stage with only the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as the most capable, factory standard, off-roader on a showroom floor – certainly in the mildly affordable stakes anyway. We can’t overlook the Mercedes-Benz G Class of course, but starting from 163 grand for the 350d, it doesn’t really count here. The automotive landscape in general might be more multi-purpose than it’s ever been, but its somewhat refreshing being behind the wheel of a vehicle so singular in purpose, so focused in nature.

With a starting price of $64,990 then, before on-road costs, the 70 Series Wagon is hardly cheap, and many of you will struggle to comprehend the asking price no matter how capable it is off-road or as a proper heavy-duty tow vehicle. Given the starkly utilitarian nature of the 70, and taking into account the lack of high tech features of any kind, the pricing is certainly steep.

However, if you’re trying to negotiate a particularly nasty dirt track in a remote area a few hundred kays from the nearest town, I’m tipping every cent of the asking price will seem like money well spent.

Same goes for trying to negotiate your way out of powdery sand in a remote corner of the desert. Head west of the Great Dividing Range and Toyotas make up a huge percentage of the vehicles you’ll spot on (and off) the road.

Many of them will be heavily modified, and heavily worked over 70 Series variants with all manner of farming and heavy equipment, either mounted on the tray, or in tow. Toyota’s vast service network, and the legendary status of the 70 as a workhorse that can withstand a prolonged beating ensure it remains a rural favourite – with very good reason.

Take the 3500kg tow rating as a starting point, which remains the rating for all 70 Series variants. Sure, any of the dual-cab pick-ups worth their salt can pull the same weight, but do you reckon a 4.5-litre turbo diesel V8 might do it a little easier than the 2.8-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet of a HiLux, for example?

What if you have to tow a camper trailer (or off-road van, for that matter) out of a muddy bog, or up a slippery slope like farmers often do? Twin diff locks and super low range gearing ensure the 70 will probably do it with ease.

So, what do you get for your money? For starters, this could, in fact, be the only standard vehicle I’ve tested that has more diff locks (two) than cupholders (one) – a fact that shines some light on how well appointed (not really) the cabin is. The singular cupholder is accompanied only by a smallish console bin between the seats. The glove box isn’t especially big either, so there’s not a huge amount of cabin storage space.

There are two 12V power sockets – one with a cigarette lighter – and a USB input on the otherwise very basic audio system. You won’t find satellite navigation or steering wheel-mounted controls either but the wagon does get electric windows (auto down for the driver) and remote central locking.

There’s a basic Bluetooth system, which is easy to set up and works reliably enough once paired. We ran my 50-litre fridge/freezer for more than a week via the power socket and it provided reliable power at all times, which is something you’ll need for remote touring.

There is also an easy to use, if a little basic, cruise control system that is one of the most accurate I’ve ever tested. Up hill or down, the speedo needle never wavers from the preset speed.

All 70 Series variants get stability control, traction control, hill-start assist, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. There are auto locking front hubs with a manual lock option, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a warning light.

The front two seats provide occupants with that high and mighty seating position favoured by so many 4WD buyers. The 70 though, delivers in the old school way with thin pillars and a tall glasshouse ensuring you get an exceptional view.

You will need the darkest legal window tints if you buy a 70 Series though, given the broad expanse of glass and the amount of light that gets in. As Mike noted in his review at launch, the broad bonnet bulge can be a bit of a pain when you’re negotiating tricky ascents off-road, but it's no issue on the sealed stuff.

The seats are basic but comfortable, even when you’re logging long days behind the wheel and the velour upholstery looks to be hard wearing. Most buyers tend to opt for seat covers anyway, but we can’t see the standard seats wearing out too quickly.

The second row is roomy enough for three adults for shorter trips and two adults on longer drives with enough legroom for six-footers. The 70 is quite tall too, so there’s a huge amount of headroom, but not as much shoulder room as something like a 200 Series, which is a broader vehicle inside the cabin.

The luggage space is large and not impacted by bulging wheel tubs and trim that doesn’t provide any functionality. The flat floor lends itself to custom drawer and mount systems for long distance touring, and the standard tie down hooks are sturdy enough to keep the aforementioned fridge/freezer in place. Even standard, there is plenty of space to lug everything four adults would need on a long trip. The availability of so much aftermarket equipment merely sweetens the deal.

So, there’s not much in the way of creature comforts, and the 70 Series bluff exterior, along with the standard snorkel, ensures some wind noise enters the cabin on the highway. The cabin could do with more insulation in general too, but prolonged high-speed work isn’t really the focus of the 70 Series. We appreciated the heavy-duty rubber floor mats fitted to our test vehicle – a must for off-road use.

As you’d probably expect, the turbo diesel engine is a powerhouse. Like the cabin and the exterior, there’s a wealth of tuning upgrades available in the aftermarket, but for those of you more interested in maintaining the factory warranty, there’s plenty of power and torque on offer.

Some of those tuning options lift the torque figure up into the 800Nm range for example, but the standard delivery is more than enough for almost any situation on – or off – road. 151kW is on offer at 3400rpm, and 430Nm at 1200rpm, which is the real key to the V8’s performance.

The manual only proviso is an issue for some buyers too, and again the aftermarket provides conversion options in the form of a Toyota auto (out of the 200 Series) or a Chevrolet Silverado transmission. Both auto conversions are six-speed 'boxes, and the Toyota six-speed is especially enticing. It has to be said the only time you really get sick of the standard manual is in heavy traffic when you’re constantly on and off the clutch pedal. You’re probably not buying a 70 Series of any kind to negotiate the daily grind, though.

On the highway, there’s always a sense you could use a sixth cog however, and that’s where I love the idea of the 200 Series automatic conversion. It brings with it a.1:1 ratio for fourth, 0.72 for fifth and 0.58 for sixth, which would drop engine RPM well below 2000 at 110km/h. While these conversions aren’t cheap, modern automatics are now more capable on-road, off-road and when towing than a manual, so you can understand owners looking at them. A six-speeder would also help touring efficiency, too.

First gear is short, so unless you’re on a steep hill, you’ll be able to get moving in second, which cuts down the amount of shifting you have to do. The V8 pulls like a train up to its redline, and gets the hefty 70 Series up to speed effortlessly. You’ll be surprised by how cleanly the V8 revs out, but it does tail off in terms of power delivery just before redline.

As always, the diesel works best in the middle of the rev range, regardless of the gear you’ve selected, and the mountainous torque on offer means you can crawl around even in fourth or fifth gear. You’ll also be surprised by how rapid the 70 Series is for such a heavy-duty off-road weapon. The modern V8 turbo diesel engine is a marvel in real world terms.

Toyota claims an ADR combined figure of 10.7 litres per 100 kilometres, and I managed 12.6L/100km over my first 407km purely in the city, then 11.2L/100km over the next 445km of 110km/h highway, followed by 11.7L/100km over a 390km mix of country roads between 60 and 100km/h. Averaged out, that is a very respectable 11.8L/100km. Given the standard 130-litre fuel tank, that average figure works out to a handy touring range of 1050km (with a 50km safety margin).

While you could argue a 200 Series would have been a more comfortable, more advanced wagon to take on a country touring drive like I did, the 70 Series Wagon still displayed its strongest traits over the drive.

While the steering is anything but precise, the turning circle woeful and the suspension tune more applicable to hammering through off-road tracks than on-road touring, they are all designed to work in the slightly slower, more sedate way that true off-road weapons work. Head anywhere off-road and the steering for example comes into it’s own, as does the suspension system, twin diff locks, and super low gearing. If you spend 90 per cent of your time in the urban confines, and only ten per cent outback, the 70 Series isn’t the vehicle for you.

We’ve given the 70 Series a seven overall here because it is so old tech and so basic, it’s hard to come up with an overall score higher than that. As you can see from the review though, there is so much about it that deserves a lot higher than a 7. Do you drive largely off-road or go remote touring? Ten. Setting it up to work hard and tow a heavy load regularly? Ten again. The overall rating here only tells part of the story then.

We love the fact that the 70 is still around. I love the fact that it is so closely tied to the generations that have come before it. Heritage is hard to create, but perhaps even harder to hang on to. Just ask Land Rover how difficult it has been to reimagine the Defender for modern requirements.

It’s a reminder of the days when a proper off-road weapon had to be as hard as nails and basic to survive in remote areas of Australia. In many ways, it still makes a whole lot of sense now, too. If I was doing ‘The Lap’ and my version of it included plenty of remote, off-road exploration, there’s only one 4WD I’d choose.

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